File—Helen Jane Finney File, 83, on September 2, 2018, in Voorhees, N.J., after a short illness following the onset of acute leukemia. Helen and her twin sister, Gladys, were born on December 26, 1934, to Edna May Tomlinson and Allen Finney, farmers in the Byberry neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa., at a time when farms were still common in Northeast Philadelphia. Her father died shortly after their birth, and their mother moved back to her parents’ farm, also in Northeast Philadelphia, for support in raising her daughters as a single mother during the Depression. Helen was directly descended from William Walton, who immigrated to Philadelphia with his three brothers around 1675 from Bibury, England, and helped to found Philadelphia’s Byberry Meeting in 1683. Helen’s family has been in continuous membership at the meeting since its founding.
After graduating from Frankford High School in 1952, she worked for Bell Telephone, where she met John File, who was from Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. They married in 1953 and moved to Fishtown and had three children: Dona, John, and Nelson. After nine years of inner city row house life, when they moved to the Bustleton neighborhood, she became active once again in Byberry Meeting. In the early 1970s, she was instrumental in Byberry Meeting’s reviving a school that had been operated between 1720 and 1918. She served as clerk of the school committee until the meeting once again laid down the school almost 20 years later.
In the mid-1970s she worked first for American Friends Service Committee in the accounts receivable department and then for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM). Beginning as a secretary, she was director of properties at Arch Street Meeting House for nearly 30 years, handling the logistics, including the food service, of the annual sessions at Arch Street Meeting House and representing PYM on the Arch Street Meeting House Property Committee. She also oversaw the important restoration work saving the meetinghouse from collapse during the 1980s. Helen was PYM’s longest-serving employee.
At Byberry Meeting, she was treasurer for almost 40 years, clerk of Trustees for about 20 years, and a representative to several Abington Quarterly Meeting committees. She was a founding member of the Friends Insurance Group for more than 40 years.
Helen was born, grew up, raised a family, and spent her life all within 15 miles of where the Walton brothers first settled in the seventeenth-century to practice Quakerism free from the persecution they suffered in England.
She is survived by two children, Nelson Finney File and Dona Lee File; three grandchildren; one great-grandchild; her sister, Gladys Finney Martin; and the beloved members of Byberry Meeting.